Shoreview couple set a new standard for educational toys
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Shoreview couple set a new standard for educational toys

May 15, 2024

A Shoreview couple is setting a new standard for educational toys by offering innovative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) toys that teach abstract and intangible concepts such as electrons, circuit boards, and the inner workings of computers.

Alyssa and Paul Boswell’s company Upper Story: Endless Curiousity, has seen phenomenal success since its start in 2017. Their first product, Turing Tumble, was launched with a month-long kick-starter campaign.

The $40,000 needed for injection molds came in the first day. By the end of the month, they received a total of $400,000 to jump start manufacturing and launching the toy. They have sold over 200,000 Turing Tumble toys and introduced a second one, Spintronics, in May 2023.

Funds to manufacture Spintronics were also raised through a kick-starter campaign. Spintronics is sold out and is being back-ordered.

The initial group of friends and family who first backed them has grown to over 9,000 supporters worldwide. Besides providing funding the supporters provide valuable feedback on concepts, test-driving prototypes, preordering the toys and follow Paul’s regular updates.

The idea for Turing Tumble came after Paul, who has a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry and was an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, began experimenting with ways to teach his children the inner workings of a computer.

“Computers are everywhere, but people hardly know how they work and what exists inside because it is so difficult to understand,” he said. He investigated ways to teach how computers work at a fundamental level by physically manipulating parts on a board to perform tasks such as subtraction and division. Instead of coding, players work with switches and wires to build these tasks and learn about a computer at the lowest level.

With Alyssa’s background in education, they market in the niche area of STEM toys, selling to individual families and educational institutions. After a brief attempt to sell their product through third-party sites like Amazon, the couple decided to market and sell the toys through their online store at

“We are our own best sellers,” said Alyssa. “Rather than passively compete with other toys on store shelves, it is easier to sell them ourselves as we can demonstrate its features through videos and other supporting materials on our website,” she added.

They advertise through social media, attend education and robotic conferences, and demonstrate at libraries and schools. In addition, the toys are locally available at Mischief and Games by James.

Upper Story has nine employees and in 2019 moved from their kitchen table to an office in the North Oaks mall. They have warehouses worldwide, two in the US and the rest in Canada, the UK, Europe and Australia.

“It is a well-integrated system--orders placed in other parts of the world are automatically fulfilled from the closest warehouse, said Alyssa. “We also work with a translation company to advertise culturally specific messages for each market. With this and no language barriers, we sell more in Europe than in the US,” she added.

Upper Story’s newest product, Spintronics, teaches how electronics work. Instead of using complex math, it uses physical parts to teach circuit design and the use of resistors and capacitors in it.

Like Turing Tumble, it comes with a puzzle book with beautiful illustrations formatted like a graphic novel with stories and challenging exercises to solve and create circuit designs.

“Each puzzle begins with an objective. Players build the starting setup and then determine how to add the available parts to build a circuit that meets the objective,” says Alyssa.

Both toys are designed and built to provide many hours of play, and for different ages and levels of difficulty.

“They could even be put away and brought out later to build new configurations with new challenges,” Alyssa says.

Paul and Alyssa always wanted their products available for schools and other educational institutions, which comprise 15% of their sales.

Teachers have successfully used these games in classrooms to help with STEM coaching. Upper Story makes concerted efforts to reach teachers, librarians, administrators and PTAs.

Paul and Alyssa attend education events and trade shows, and also offer introductory sessions through local libraries. Both the toys come with educator and practice guides, and are available in seven languages.

Besides their contribution to the advancement of STEM education, Paul and Alyssa believe in giving back to those people without access to these resources.

Part of every purchase goes to the Turing Trust, which provides reused IT equipment, educational resources and training to schools in sub-Saharan Africa. This effort also helps reduce the global carbon footprint by reusing old computers.

Paul and Alyssa feel they have learned a lot starting a profitable business and are dedicated to being a company that makes a difference. As they look for future products their approach is looking for concepts too abstract or difficult to teach and make them tangible to allow people to learn.

“Our goal is to make products that have a long life and give deep and long-lasting enjoyment,” says Alyssa.

Paul and Alyssa live in Shoreview with their three boys, all in the Mounds View school district, with one in each school: Island Lake, Chippewa and Mounds View High School.

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